Archive: Issue No. 66, February 2003

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Diane Victor

Diane Victor, 1964

Diane Victor

Diane Victor

Diane Victor

Diane Victor
Judgement of Parys (1988)
conté, charcoal, pastel
1300x830; 1400x1050; 1350x810
Courtesy SANG

Diane Victor

Diane Victor

Diane Victor

Diane Victor
Vastrap (Long Arm Foxtrot) conté, charcoal, pastel
from 'Transmigrations'

Diane Victor

Diane Victor
Strip (1999)
Pastel and charcoal on paper

Diane Victor

Diane Victor
White Women (1998)
soft pastel on paper
117.5 x 69 cm

Diane Victor

Disaster series - 'Blind Justice', 2001/2003
Etching, Edition of 25
26 x 33 cm

Diane Victor

'Straightdress', 2002
Etching and embossing,Edition of 10
160 x 85 cm

Diane Victor

'Just close your eyes, click your heels three times and say..."There's no place like home" '�(DETAIL), 2002
Etching and embossing on paper
Edition of 10
159 x 40 cm

Diane Victor
by Sean O'Toole (February, 2003)

Diane Victor is an artist of uncompromising directness. Her pastel, charcoal and linocut works typically confront viewers with a highly charged, often fraught psychological landscape. "I cannot just leave issues that anger or upset me alone," she once observed in an interview. "They are still part of my range of choices and an element of my social conscience � that want almost to rattle people or make them take one step beyond their comfort zone."


"Her sometimes macabre drawings of physical, sexual and psychological violence, the powerful quality of her drawings and graphics, and her consistently high level of technical excellence are well known, and have warranted her acclaim and recognition."
Herlo van Rensburg, Image and Text, 1995

"Figures and images in Diane's drawings are conceptually collaged into scenarios, yet do not maintain a one-to-one relation with each other. Instead, iconographical motifs are dissociated in games of irony, parody, innuendo and displacement, continuously dissolving, or at least, checkmating, all narrative structures."
Herlo van Rensburg, (essay), 1996

"Victor's intricate pastel and charcoal drawings [are] densely frightening and with horrific meaning. They are also very beautiful and delicate, and if that's a paradox it's one that gives the work its meaning."
Chris Roper, M&G, 1998

"Diane Victor's White Woman figures the anxieties of identity and sexuality with the strength and impact of her powerful large-scale drawings: her remarkable draftsmanship brings the muted greys and raw pinks of her pastels to painful life."
Brenda Atkinson, M&G, 1999


Diane Victor's work tackles a range of pressing issues, ranging from sexual repression to personal and social violence to racial anxiety. Her work is deeply rooted in the troubled consciousness of contemporary South Africa. Yet, despite the somewhat abject themes underlying her output, Diane Victor's work avoids the trappings of social realism. Metaphor and symbol are as important in her work as are the literal depictions of subjects confronted by the ascendance of fraught states of being.

Looking beyond the intense emotive qualities of Diane Victor's output - and her intriguing approach to figuration - what remains a constant is the sheer virtuosity of her style. Whether rendering her subjects in charcoal, or undertaking conceptually challenging embossings, Diane Victor typically evinces consummate skill and a meticulous sense for detail.


An intensely idiosyncratic personality, Diane Victor once told me, "I have an absolute mistrust/dislike for words at the best of times." Despite this aversion to words, she has over the years offered valuable insights into her working method.

"My interest in image making is linked to my interest as observer, as voyeur. Through the media of drawing and printmaking in which I normally work, I explore ways to exorcise the mass of images that build up in memory/minds eye.

"To 'draw out ' these figures allows me to re-confront them in my own terms/territory. The physical and psychological interactions between people and the damage that these interactions invite is interesting to me, the surface of the human body acting as a recording device of the history/s of its owner. Flesh as document of desires and weaknesses." (2002)

"My drawing interests tend towards figuration and narrative." (2002)

"I do not intend to improve society but only to make people think slightly � Within this country, now that suddenly we are in a new society, and everything is wow whoopee Rainbow Nation, we are still slaughtering people. Perhaps it does not happen at the same rate as it did before, and perhaps it is almost too easily forgotten. Yet one can still switch on the radio, and hear that they killed twenty people in Natal or five were necklaced or stoned. Nothing seems to change, no-one responds unless they are affected personally, and people still forget what they do not like." (1995)


At the start of 2003 Diane Victor returned to the Goodman Gallery, in Johannesburg, for a showing of her recent work. This eponymous show, held in January, featured works divided into two primary components: printmaking and drawing. The prints included large-scale etchings similar to, and including the pieces recently exhibited at the Sasol Wax Works Exhibition, and which were awarded first prize in their category. These etching included mezzotinted shaped plates in combination with deep blind embossing, depicting the artist's usual preoccupations and themes. Also included was her 'Disasters of Peace' series of etchings, produced over the last three years. While disturbingly graphic, they will are nonetheless an accurate document of the psyche of an era.

Over the past few years Diane Victor has featured on a number of group shows. One of her more notable appearances was on the thematically linked shows 'Clean' and 'Grime', curated by a former student, Pretoria-based artist Retha Erasmus. For 'Clean', at the Millenium Gallery in 2001, she showcased her blind embossings, while more recently, at Cape Town's Bell-Roberts, she showed a triptych called Some things are just pictures, a somewhat unsettling series combing charcoal, pastel and etching. This work amply summarised her masterful ability to play with darkness and light, as well as her ability to include startling amounts of detail into one composition.

In 2001 Diane Victor bid farewell to Pretoria University where she had taught for nearly a decade. An influential, and reputedly well-liked lecturer, her influence was summed up in a show she curated. While I may have been personally critical of 'Drawing Conclusions', there is no doubting the immeasurable influence of her style - and thematic sensibility - on her Pretoria students.

Looking back to the years predating her 1998 show at the Goodman Gallery, Diane Victor presented a piece titled Consumer Violence at the 'Edge' show on the fringe off the 1995 Africus Biennale in Johannesburg. "Superimposing Mickey Mouse in the drawing Consumer Violence was not an arbitrary choice," she once remarked of this work, "but a very specific one." The first panel of Consumer Violence portrays the traditional stereotype of the crouching, tortured figure with a sack over his head.

"My technical approach may have changed, but my drawings arc always a personal, critical response to my surroundings," she said with regards this piece. "Consumer Violence is an attempt to experiment with arbitrary visual images, without sacrificing content. Social commentary seems to remain a recurring characteristic of my work, no matter how hard I try to escape it" (van Rensburg, 1996).


Diane Victor's early 90s career included various group shows nationally, as well as some formative solo exhibitions. Particularly significant of these was her first exhibition at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg in 1992. It was there that she exhibited Nostogio, Degli Onesti, and Other Difficult Decisions as one of the main works. The work combines eclectic sources and references, including dogs and snippets from a Botticelli work.

The Goodman show received a drubbing from art critic Hazel Friedman (1992) for its use of complex and excessive layering of meanings. "I appreciated the criticism," said Diane Victor to Herlo van Rensburg in 1995, "because I was not getting feedback from anyone else ... I started to look at my own work, thinking that it possibly needed careful editing. I needed to make more choices. I needed to select and focus on things, rather than allowing everything in."

After this show her work began to change, particularly on a formal level. The drawing The Underta-ker shows the initial simplification of her com-positions with its attempts to limit the symbolic con-tent of the drawing. In Give a Dog a Bad Name she adopted "a decidedly centralised composition that she then deconstruct[ed] with a con-tradictory pastel overlay of a newspaper image of a hanged dog, drawn directly over the original drawing of the figure. This enabled her to retain her use of eclectic content" (van Rensburg, 1996).

"The overlay technique was lifted very clearly from David Salle," she admitted to Herlo van Rensburg. "This opened new possibilities for me, and I have developed the idea further since then. Now I will take an image and superimpose multiple overlays over it so that each succes-sive overlay becomes fragmented, at the same time breaking up the image underneath. This is not an original idea either, but I don't consider that to be an issue."


When Diane Victor completed her Fine Arts degree at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1986, she had already won numerous art awards and bursaries. In 1988 she won the Volkskas Atelier award, which includes a stay in Paris. During her Paris residency, Victor participated in various exhibitions, both in France as well as in England, Germany and Monte Carlo. Commenting on her work from this period, Herlo van Rensburg comments that it exhibited "a strong narrative trend, and show[ed] a growing interest in eclectic content."

For the Triad Graphics exhibition in Paris, which formed part of the bicentenary commemoration of the French Revolution, she produced the etching Sweet Liberty Gone to Fat. The work emphasised the dehumanising tragedy of the celebratory theme. Her large triptych Looking for Arcadia Again, now in the collection of the Johannesburg Act Gallery, was originally exhibited at the Cite International in Paris.

These early works reflect on her strong reaction to her Parisian environment she experienced at the beginning of her stay. Yet even in these early works signature elements of her style were in evidence. In both the Paris works mentioned, she constructs a montage that combines classical references with acutely perceptive social insights and highly autobiographical detail. It is for this reason that Diane Victor is so often likened to William Kentridge: the two share more than simply a common interest in pastel.


Having recently freed herself of her academic commitments, Diane Victor is currently investigating possibilities of showing her internationally, particularly in London. The work that appeared on the two group shows 'Clean' and 'Grime' will be shown together later this year at the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunsfees (art festival) in April 2003.

Witbank born Diane Victor (.1964) has won numerous awards and art residencies since completing her BA (FA) at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1986. She was the overall winner of the SASOL New Signatures Competition in 1986, and in 1988 took the honours in the Volkskas Atelier Award. More recently she came joint second in the 1997 Kempton Park Art Competition Fellowship, and in 1999 was one of five artists selected for the Windsor and Newton Millennium painting competition. Her work is widely represented in a variety of collections, including the Johannesburg and Durban art galleries, the South African National Gallery in Cape Town, the Gauteng Legislature, as well as the Vienna based Bundeskonzelampt in Austria.

Select Awards:

1985 Anya Millman Scholarship for travel in Europe, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Student Prize, NSA Paper Works exhibition, Durban. Merit Student, Graphics II, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
1986 SASOL New Signatures Competition, overall winner, SA Arts Association, Pretoria. Gunther van der Reis prize for Graphics, New Signatures Competition, SA Arts Association, Pretoria. Martienessen Prize, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Merit Student, Graphics IV, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
1987 Reeves Award, Rolfe's Graphics Prize. Corona del Mar Young Artist Award, joint second prize
1988 Volkskas Atelier Award, overall winner
1989 Financial Mail/J & B Rare Achievers Award for Art

Select Reviews:

Herlo van Rensburg, "Purging in the work of Diane Victor: Contradiction and Convergence", Gallery Page,, June 1996

Chris Roper, 'Each to his/her own', Mail & Guardian, May 8, 1998

Brenda Atkinson, 'Some gems at the end of the rainbow', Mail & Guardian,April 8, 1999 (Review of Winsor and Newton Millennium Painting Competition)

Brenda Atkinson, 'Clean: An Exhibition of De-saturated Contemporary Art', ArtThrob, November 2001

Daniel Thöle, 'Social statements cross boundaries', Business Day, Tuesday, April 9, 2002 (Review of 'Transmigrations' at Pretoria Art Museum)

Sue Williamson, ''Grime' at Bell-Roberts Art Gallery', ArtThrob, July, 2002

Andrea Jonker-Bryce, 'More than meets the eye', Dispatch Online, Thursday, November 21, 2002 (Review of 'Transmigrations' at Ann Bryant Art Gallery)


Alan Alborough
(July 2000)
Jane Alexander
(July 1999)
Siemon Allen
(June 2001)
Willie Bester
(Aug 1999)
Willem Boshoff
(Aug 2001)
Conrad Botes
(Dec 2001)
Andries Botha
(April 2000)
Kevin Brand
(June 1998)
Candice Breitz
(Oct 1998)
Lisa Brice
(Jan 1999)
Pitso Chinzima
(Oct 2001)
Marco Cianfanelli
(Aug 2002)
Steven Cohen
(May 1998)
Leora Farber
(May 2002)
Bronwen Findlay
(April 2002)
Kendell Geers
(June 2002)
Linda Givon
(Dec 1999)
David Goldblatt
(Dec 2002)
Thembinkosi Goniwe
(Oct 2002)
Brad Hammond
(Jan 2001)
Randolph Hartzenberg
(Aug 1998)
Kay Hassan
(Oct 2000)
Stephen Hobbs
(Dec 1998)
Robert Hodgins
(June 2000)
William Kentridge
(May 1999)
Isaac Khanyile
(Nov 2001)
Dorothee Kreutzfeld
(Jan 2000)
Terry Kurgan
(Aug 2000)
Moshekwa Langa
(Feb 1999)
Mandla Mabila
(Sept 2001)
Veronique Malherbe
(June 1999)
Mustafa Maluka
(July 1998)
Senzeni Marasela
(Feb 2000)
Santu Mofokeng
(July 2002)
Zwelethu Mthethwa
(April 1999)
Thomas Mulcaire
(April 2001)
Brett Murray
(Sept 1998)
Hylton Nel
(Feb 2002)
Karel Nel
(Oct 1999)
Walter Oltmann
(July 2001)
Malcolm Payne
(Nov 2002)
Tracy Payne
(Mar 1998)
Peet Pienaar
(Dec 2000)
Jo Ractliffe
(Mar 1999)
Robin Rhode
(Nov 1999)
Tracey Rose
(Mar 2001)
Claudette Schreuders
(Sept 2000)
Berni Searle
(May 2000)
Berni Searle (update)
(Jan 2003)
Usha Seejarim
(May 2001)
Penny Siopis
(Sept 1999)
Dave Southwood
(Mar 2002)
Doreen Southwood
(Sept 2002)
Greg Streak
(Feb 2001)
Clive van den Berg
(Nov 1998)
Hentie van der Merwe
(Mar 2000)
Strijdom van der Merwe
(Jan 2002)
Minnette Vári
(Feb 1998)
Jeremy Wafer
(Nov 2000)